Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker

By Sarah Stroumsa | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
An Almohad “Fundamentalist”?

As a young adult, between the years 1148 and 1165, Maimonides lived under Almohad rule. The im mense impact of these formative years on his thought has been almost totally overlooked by modern scholarship.1 This chapter will investigate the permeation of his thought, both halachic and philosophical, by Almohad doctrine.


ALMOHADS

In 1148, Cordoba, Maimonides' birthplace, was conquered by the Muwahhidun (known in Latin as the Alomohads), a Berber dynasty that had by then established its rule in North Africa. The found er of the movement, Muhammad ibn Tūmart (1078 [or 1081]–1130) and his successor and the actual found er of the dynasty, ʿAbd al- Mu‛min (d. 1165), gained political and military power and ousted the previous Berber dynasty, that of the Murābitūn (known in Latin as the Almoravids). Revivalist movements aiming to restore Islam to its pristine purity, and to replace a previous (already corrupt) such movement, are a recurrent phenomenon in Islam in general and in North Africa in particular. Sociologists, from Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406) to Ernest Gellner (d. 2006), view the emergence of such movements as a periodic cycle related to the mutual relations between nomad desert- dwellers and settled societies.2 The Almohad movement, however, was not merely yet another revivalist wave emerging from the rough and remote regions to restore old mores and values in the

1The possibility that Maimonides is indebted to the Almohads was already raised by I.
Heinemann, “Maimuni und die arabischen Einheitslehrer,” Monatschrift für Geschichte
und Wissenschaft des Judentums
79 (1935): 102- 48, esp. 147 ff. The specific influences
suggested by Heinemann, however, are improbable. Also improbable is the suggestion that
Maimonides was influenced by the Almohad aversion to poetry; see D. Urvoy, Pensers d'al-
Andalus. La vie intellectuelle à Séville et Cordoue au temps des empires berbères [fin Xle
siècle-début XIIIe siècle]
(Toulouse, 1990), 119. Maimonides was opposed to vocal and
musical entertainment, but he does not seem to have objected to poetry, and in fact had
written some himself; see Y. Yahalom, “ 'Sayeth Tuviyyah ben Zidkiyyah': The Maqama of
Joseph ben Simeon in Honor of Maimonides,” Tarbiz 66 (1997): 543- 77, esp. 552, 558- 60
[Hebrew]; but see note 39, below.

2Cf. E. Gellner, “Flux and Reflux in the Faith of Men,” Muslim Society (Cambridge, 1981),
1–85, esp. 46 (quoting Friedrich Engels).

-53-

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